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Personal defense pistol caliber

Strategy Page describes Why the .45 Matters but misses one critical fact. The military is restricted by the Geneva conventions which allow only ball ammunition. Civilian self defense is a different matter than military action and that means that using the military experience needs to be properly qualified.

“A smaller, faster bullet has a tendency to just go through someone. This does damage, often fatal damage, but if often does not slow down a highly energized soldier. A larger bullet, especially a blunt one, will be more effective at “stopping” someone. Thus the popularity of the .45 caliber pistol round. Although it has less energy than the 9mm round (450 joules compared to 583), those who have used both insist that the .45 is far more effective than the smaller and faster 9mm. Part of this has to do with the fact that the .45 (11.4mm) bullet hits with a 60 percent larger (as seen head on) area, thus it applied more of that energy to the target. This explains the greater likelihood of the .45 caliber bullet “knocking down” whoever it hits. The same physics applies to rifle bullets (although they tend to have pointy tips, unlike the blunter ones for pistol pullets.) A 7.62mm bullet is 88 percent larger (head on) than a 5.56mm one.”

One of the better discussions about the 9mm vs .45 ACP issue is by a cop who hunts south Texas javelins and other game with handguns.

The key item is that civilians are not held to Geneva convention ammunition restrictions. That means that a hollow point bullet can be used. The reason for that sort of bullet is that it expands when it hits something. When that happens it maximizes energy delivery to target. For the military which can’t use such bullets, larger bullet size with less speed is usually the easiest way to deliver energy on target. Civilians can use smaller high speed bullets which means more shots available, smaller weapons, and easier handling.

Anyone with a reasonable understanding of classical physics realizes that bullets don’t stop people by themselves. The momentum from a gun’s recoil is conserved and that means that the bullet will have the same impact on the target as the gun has on the shooter. What will stop a target is the damage the bullet does and that depends upon the delivery of energy to the proper place. One sort of damage is psychological. When someone notices they have been hit by a bullet, the automatic response is to drop. Training, drugs, or heightened emotional states may get around that response.

If the target is hit in the spinal cord such as to cause paralysis, then that also will cause the target to become immediately disabled. That sort of hit is highly unlikely. Next most disabling is an injury that causes blood loss. Even with a heart hit, the brain can still keep going for a few seconds so this sort of hit does not immediately stop the target.

The key is that it is marksmanship with the appropriate tool that is by far more significant than caliber. For self defense, a 12 gauge shotgun is probably a good start. For pistols, a 38 or larger caliber revolver or automatic will do with the appropriate ammunition. Just getting the tool, though, is not sufficient. You need to develop a skill with the tool via use and make sure that it is the right tool for you.

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